REDUCING STIFFNESS I have a 17-year-old stationbred mare who I compete in low level dressage, and we’re really starting to develop a real partnership! But due to her age she is a bit stiff and judges are starting to pick up on it. Is there anything I can
Vet Dave replies:
Jess, when it comes to supplements you typically get what you pay for. The raw products of glucosamine and chondroitin are expensive – thus a cheap supplement is unlikely to contain much of the raw product; however, price doesn’t guarantee that an expensive one will either.
For older horses I typically recommend products containing glucosamine, chondroitin, devil’s claw and MSM. Please note the last two substances are prohibited for use in competition, so should have the relevant withhold times observed.
I have no specific favourites and will typically look at what products an owner already has to determine if they are appropriate.
I have clients who will swear by using turmeric as an anti-inflammatory agent; however, current research would suggest that the dose of curcumin required to get anti-inflammatory action in a horse is exceptionally large, thus I don’t recommend its use, but I am more than happy for a client to feed it if they feel it is helping.
I like using Pentosan polysulphate in stiff horses as an intra-muscular injection. There are various companies that produce Pentosan injection and whichever one your vet prefers will do just fine. It is licensed as a treatment for once weekly injections for four weeks. I prefer to use it off label as a once a month treatment during competition season and one every other month when spelling. Pentosan polysulphate works by aiding in the repair of cartilage in the joint and helping to slow or halt any further wear and tear. It also aids in the production of joint fluid to aid in the cushioning effect that the fluid has between the two cartilaginous surfaces of the joint. In preference from a budget perspective I would choose to use Pentosan over oral joint supplementation.
If you have a very limited budget then I have several non-supplement related suggestions for you to consider. The first would be to pay your farrier more frequently. In-balance feet with the correct length toe will provide less shock loading to the limb and also allow for an earlier take off. This will minimise stress loading on the joints and help maintain soundness for longer. A shorter shoeing or trimming cycle will help to keep feet in perfect condition for longer periods.
The second would be to critically look at your own weight and riding ability. A rider in tune with their horse will keep excessive force loading on joints to a minimum and thus reduce joint wear and tear. An rider flopping around in the saddle is of no help to the horse in any respect. Be honest with yourself. This may involve you getting more riding instruction to improve your skill level or motivate you to achieve personal fitness.
Thirdly, I would advise to aim to achieve quality rather than just quantity in all work periods – be they competition or training. A generous time should be spent warming up and down with any exercises attempted solely aimed to deliver the lesson required with a sensible level of efficiency. the market – although quality and sourcing is important for them to be effective in horses. For example, there are joint formulas based on chondroitin and MSM which are effective in dogs, but cannot be used in horses as the bacteria in their hind gut breaks it down so it is not absorbed in an effective manner.
There is a USA patent for a specific product for horses which is effective as a joint formula – you can look it up online as I don’t really do product placement and am not on commission!
Other effective products include high omega-3 oil from vegetable oils such as canola (oil seed rape). These work on the immune system where they increase certain entities that are involved in suppressing inflammation. These seem to be important in horses, and work completely the reverse to mechanisms seen in other mammals such as cats and dogs, probably because horses are prey species which need to ‘keep up with the herd’. This has made them more dependent on such nutrients, which they derive from plant oils, to suppress issues which could make them lame and more vulnerable to attack.
There are various nutraceutical (plant-derived) products which have good data behind them now on stiffness and joint problems – such as turmeric for arthritis for example. These are worth looking into – but do ask for the research and information behind the product to make sure it’s being used in a high enough dose to be effective for horses.